Tonto National Forest has almost 3,000,000 acres and is the largest of the six National Forests in Arizona. Landscapes range from Saguaro cactus deserts to lakes and pine-forested mountains. Elevations range from 1,400 feet in the Sonoran Desert to 7,400 feet in the Mogollon Rim. Much of the area is covered by cacti (primarily giant Saguaro). The cactus colonies merge with bushes, chaparral and grasslands above 4,000 feet, while the higher hills to the north support varied woodland habitats including juniper, mixed fir and ponderosa pine.
Besides desert and mountains, Tonto National Forest contains lakes/reservoirs, river valleys, canyons and flat plains. It also contains eight separate national wilderness areas with limited access. The land in these wilderness areas is generally steep and rough, without many trails, and has harsh weather for most of the year.
To the southwest, Tonto National Forest is bordered by the edge of the Superstition Wilderness and New River Mountains. To the north, it's bordered by three other National Forests - Prescott, Coconino and Apache National Forests. And to the east, it's bordered by the Fort Apache and San Carlos Indian Reservations. The northern boundary is defined by the Mogollon Rim, ranging from 2,000 to 3,000 feet, that forms the southern edge of the great Colorado Plateau, which stretches for over 100 miles across central Arizona.
Two campgrounds that have beautiful views of just a few of the diverse landscapes of Tonto National Forest are Tortilla and Cholla campgrounds. While both of these campgrounds are located in beautiful desert areas, Tortilla campground has beautiful views of the bluffs and mountains of the Superstition Wilderness and Cholla campground overlooks Theodore Roosevelt Lake.
Tortilla campground is on a ridge along Tortilla Creek next to Apache Trail Scenic Byway. With 77 RV and tent camp sites in the middle of a beautiful desert landscape, you would think that this campground, like so many National Forest campgrounds, would not provide any sort of RV hook up. Well, surprisingly, all sites have water and sewer hook up - a much appreciated desert campground amenity!
In addition to the beautiful views of the native desert vegetation, at an elevation of 1,870 feet, the campground has excellent views of the rugged bluffs in the Superstition Wilderness from most camp sites. Getting to Tortilla campground via The Apache Trail, or AZ 88 as it is officially known, also provides magnificent views of the Superstition Mountains and Wilderness. Desert vegetation provides good separation between camp sites at Tortilla.
Cholla campground, like Tortilla, is surrounded by desert vegetation. It overlooks Roosevelt Lake, with many sites having direct but distant views of the lake. Beware that because the campground is a distance away from the lake, if the water is low, you may not be able to see it. Water levels are dependent on the weather and the need for water in Phoenix.
This campground is at an elevation of 2,200 feet and is much larger than Tortilla with 206 RV and tent camp sites. No hook ups are available at this campground.
Roosevelt Lake is the one of the largest in the state and like other lakes in this area, summer water temperatures can exceed 90 degrees F. The last few years has seen a dramatic reduction in the water level, largely due to the need to maintain supply to the other lakes on the Salt River downstream. Nevertheless, there are still plenty of boating and swimming opportunities for much of the year.
Tortilla and Cholla campgrounds are like two oases in the desert for campers looking for campgrounds with beautiful views of a few of the varied natural landscapes of Tonto National Forest. Camping with beautiful views of desert landscapes, a lake and rugged mountainous terrain of the Superstitious Wilderness Area is just a small part of what Arizona's largest national forest has to offer.